Diary / Beauty / Sep 26, 2022
Bespoke Beauty: Data-Driven Personalization is Here
Written by: Alexandra Perron, Managing Editor
Today you can get couture dresses, bespoke suits, and even jeans that fit your exact measurements, so it was only a matter of time before this idea took hold of the beauty world. Who wouldn’t want skincare products designed to target all of their specific concerns? Or a shampoo that factors in the humidity levels of the city you live in? It might sound too good to be true (or too good to actually work), but a new group of bespoke brands, like Prose and Proven Skincare, are doing just that. These brands have set out to bring effective formulations straight to your door (with the help of AI), while challenging the way the beauty industry brings products to market.
“The origin of beauty is personalized and custom-made. You went to the apothecary and they were doing the preparation in front of you, it was personalized to you,” says Arnaud Plas, co-founder and CEO of Prose, a custom hair care brand that launched in 2018. Plas wanted to recreate this experience for today’s consumer through conversations around their needs and goals. Instead of launching new products every year with a specific consumer segment in mind, which can be overwhelming, Prose offers three products: a treatment mask, a shampoo and a conditioner. (Seasonally, a hair oil is also made available to customers.) Customers answer a 25-question survey that covers everything from diet to environment and Prose generates three custom formulas that address their needs, with prices starting at $25.
These formulas are developed using the customer information and the Prose team’s knowledge of effective ingredients — they’ve identified 75 innovative and effective ingredients for use in the product range. And when customers re-order, they provide feedback that not only allows for the team to improve their specific formula, but benefits the overall algorithm. Today, the brand has collected thousands of customer reviews that impact the personalization and production process.
For the co-founders of Proven Skincare, their own struggles were the inspiration behind the brand. Ming Zhao wasn’t able to find a product on the market that worked for her. “Nothing had the results they were promising. Everything was marketing hype,” says Zhao. It wasn’t until she had personalized products made by a “skin guru” that she saw real results. Meanwhile, her co-founder Amy Yuan was dealing with her own skin struggles around atopic dermatitis. Yuan, a computational physicist, built herself a database on atopic dermatitis that compiled scientific journal articles, research literature, consumer testimonials, and product reviews. The database allowed her to find a way to keep her condition under control. The duo combined their “mutual epiphanies” to form Proven and replicate their experiences for others.
Together, they expanded the database Yuan built to include information on 20,238 ingredients, 100,000 product reviews, 8 million customer testimonials and reviews from over 4,000 journal articles on skincare and beauty. The Skin Genome Project, as it’s now known, is the largest database on skincare and beauty and the winner of MIT’s 2018 Artificial Intelligence Award. Combined with Zhao’s experience with personalized products, the database helps in the development of Proven’s personalized products while eliminating the trial and error that comes with building a skincare routine.
“When it comes to personalization, there is nothing more personal to us than skin,” says Zhao. “At the same time, skincare products as a category are more intimate than any other. Skin care goes deep and is meant to go deep.” Customers take a brief skin assessment on the site that goes beyond identifying a “type” and factors in their skin concerns, environment and lifestyle. The assessment was designed to emulate the experience of sitting in front of a dermatologist. And the conversation continues after customers receive their products and have the opportunity to schedule a phone or video consultation with one of the brand’s estheticians.
Like Prose, Proven offers three products: a cleanser, an anti-pollution SPF, and a night cream. “It’s personalization tied with the philosophy of using the right ingredients,” says Zhao. “You don’t need 20 products. We’ve paired just the ingredients you need down into the products that you need.” As customers come back to order more, products are adjusted based on changes in their skin and their lifestyles.
Both brands also recognize the positive impact personalization can have on the environment. “The current industry model is terrible for the planet,” says Plas, who points out that brands generate an average of 30-40% product waste. Traditionally, products are produced based on a forecast and those that don’t sell end up in the garbage. With a made-to-order model, Prose only generates 1-3% waste, which comes from customer returns of products. For Proven, the goal is not to have something sitting on a shelf. “Our products are made in modular way so that based on our ability to forecast demand with our data, we only create what we think will be right for customers,” says Zhao. “It’s a dynamic system. Everything is tailored so it makes sense for the time you are buying it.”
With these two brands leading the way, it’s safe to say this is just the beginning when it comes to data-driven personalization within the beauty industry.